Burundi is a small, land-locked country in Africa and one of the most heavily indebted in the world. Its teachers are presently engaged in three days of strike a month, campaigning for a living wage. At present they earn $102 a month. The World Bank calculates that average consumption per person in the country is $52 a month, so given that the average family size is five, it does not take a mathematical genius to realise that such low wages are insufficient for survival.

The World Bank, along with its even less attractive twin brother the International Monetary Fund, holds the purse strings for Burundi, since the country is largely dependent on aid and loans. And the World Bank sees a problem - fluctuations in the price of coffee and tea, the country's main exports, are likely to depress the economy still further. And of course such fluctuations are caused by the free market, which according to those same bodies, is the force of nature which can float all boats and cause countries in the global South to 'develop' their way out of poverty. The answer to market volatility, according to the economic eggheads at the World Bank is to rein in public sector spending, in particular public sector pay. In Burundi, as in many countries in the global South, over 50% of the public sector workforce consists of teachers. In other words the answer to poverty is more poverty, dressed up in the language of service delivery and performance rewards.

Even as the World Bank was proposing further restraint on teachers' pay, it was also putting the sum of $20 million into the country's education system to improve it. At the end of a long civil was in 2005, average class sizes for primary schools in the Karusi province of the country were 171. By the end of the project this had improved, along with the primary completion rate, which went up from 38% to 56%.  Part of the imrpovement in class size was brought about by teachers working a double shift - one lot of children in the morning another lot in the afternoon.

$20 million is small change for the World Bank and its friends. The CEO of Starbucks for example, a man who, like the people of Burundi, relies on coffee for the bulk of his wealth, has an estimated personal wealth of $1.5 billion. However, we have no doubt that elements within the World Bank genuinely wanted to improve education in Burundi, after all there is no mileage for them in having an illiterate workforce or one in abject poverty - markets rely on workers and consumers after all. Yet the teachers, who work day in day out to try to give the children of Burundi an education in impossible conditions, are expected to work for poverty wages.

Four teaching unions in Burundi are organising the strike action, representing teachers across the education sector. Two more unions are threatening to join them. The government reached an agreement with the unions on May 24th last year to improve their salaries. That agreement has still not been honoured so, as well as the three day strikes, Burundi teachers will wear black on the 24th of each month until it is.

It was encouraging to notice that the Huffington Post has registered the low wages faced by teachers in the global South. If anything its report, 'More Evidence that Teachers are not paid Nearly Enough' understates the case. Even the $5 a day, quoted for teachers in the Central African Republic, is more than teachers receive in for instance Egypt, Malawi or Cambodia - contract teachers of course earn even less. Unsurprisingly the report says that educational disadvantage is linked to teacher salaries. If teachers are hungry or are having to take extra jobs in order to survive, then it is not surprising that education suffers - quite apart from stratospheric class sizes and often dreadful conditions. As long as the scandal of poverty wages for teachers obtains, it would be good if our unions in the North and our global federation, Education International, could stop co-operating with Global Learning Metrics Taskforces, Global Business Coalitions for Education and the like, and get behind unions and activists straining every nerve to sort it out.